Just Too Nice?
Since I’ve already established my canine-loving credentials, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy an Animal Planet cable show called “Too Cute.” In each episode, the camera follows three sets of puppies from shortly after birth to their adoption at about two months.
Through close-up videos and with a sugary voice-over we see them taking tentative steps exploring, playing, eating, and sleeping. It’s all very sweet and very nice–and, as anyone who has housebroken a puppy can tell you, it’s also just one side of the story. Yes, there’s a lot about a puppy that is fun and cute, but there’s also a lot that is hard work and messy.
Unfortunately, some businesses can get also find themselves in a “too cute” or “too nice” environment. Working in a pleasant, collegial office, one whose employees are supportive and respectful, is certainly light years better than working in an office where there is infighting, gossip, or backbiting. But when it comes to the work itself, not asking hard questions because it isn’t “polite” or “nice” can be a very dangerous practice.
What some see as being polite, others see as a bad business practice. In meetings where debate is squelched in the name of harmony, issues may be glossed over, decisions postponed, or steps taken without input from all perspectives. Employees―or even managers or executives―who are afraid to “rock the boat” (often because “the boss” is present) may be closing their eyes to the small crack that could in time become a major breach causing the whole business to take on water.
It doesn’t mean co-workers should be disagreeable or argumentative towards each other, but it does mean that they should not be afraid to ask for answers and pursue the facts about something that just doesn’t seem right or logical. Ignoring it may keep one employee out of a tight spot momentarily, but it could eventually jeopardize every employee if the business suffers.
In his highly entertaining business book, “Death by Meeting,” Patrick Lencioni cites the “lack of drama” as “Problem #1” in boring, inefficient meetings. He even advocates stirring the pot if necessary to transform complacent observers into highly involved participants: “A leader of a meeting must make it a priority to seek out and uncover any important issues about which team members do not agree. And when team members don’t want to engage in those discussions, the leader must force them to do so.”
As he explains, “When a group of intelligent people come together to talk about issues that matter, it is both natural and productive for disagreement to occur. Resolving those issues is what makes a meeting productive, engaging, even fun.”
When honest discussions replace repetitive “show and tell” reports, your employees might not only stop dreading meetings, but start wanting to participate in them because they know they really matter.